There are many theories about crime and the factors that cause an individual to commit crime. Some theorists argue that criminal behavior is a product of a person’s natural environment. This essentially means an individual though not predisposed to committing crime may eventually start to commit crime because of influence from peers and friends. On the other hand, there are theorists who argue that criminal behavior can be a product of man’s primitive instincts. These theorists argue that a person can be “born criminal” because of certain biological factors that may pre-determine the way an individual thinks and acts. These theorists suggest that crime can be beyond the control of an individual because a person’s genes may affect his state of mind which predisposes him to committing a crime.
There are also studies that say that crime can be a result of mental disorders. In the past, it was perceived that mentally ill individuals were no more likely to engage in violent actions than an individual who is not mentally ill. However, recent studies have started to debunk this perception as they have found that mentally ill individuals are more prone to violence and to commit crime than the general population (Tanvir Sing, 2007).
In the United States, there are no available research that will directly link mental disorder and crime. In Sweden, however, a psychiatric evaluation of the homicide offenders found that 54% had been diagnosed of personality disorder, 47% had substance abuse disorders, and 25% had schizophrenia, bipolar, or other types of psychosis. (Tanvir Sing, 2007) According to a study conducted by Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, around 18% of murders and attempted murders were committed by people with mental illness.
Mental disorder is defined under Section 1 of the Mental Health Act of 1983 as amended by Mental Health Act of 2007 is any disorder or disability of the mind. This highlights that a mental disorder can be so broad that it can include personality disorder, learning disability, or psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia (Jill Peay, p.1).
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According to these studies, individuals who have severe forms of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder have impairment in their ability to think clearly, communicate effectively, and understand reality. These individuals are not capable of responding emotionally to different stimulus just like the general population. For example, individuals who have schizophrenia oftentimes hallucinate, hear voices and see things that do not exist in the reality. They also manifest illogical and incoherent thought. Because they receive stimulus different from the general population, they also respond to them differently, oftentimes, violently.
One of the most notorious and violent schizophrenics was David Berkowitz, also known as the ‘Son of Sam”. It was reported that he went on a killing spree from 1976 to 1977 terrorizing New York in the process. When captured, he claimed to have received messages from a neighbor’s dog. Russell Eugene Weston, Jr., on the other hand, was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed that he was President Clinton’s clone, that the CIA had tried to assassinate him, and that the government was spying on him through his neighbor’s satellite dish. In the course of his delusions, he shot and killed two members of the Capitol Police Force in the United States Capitol Building and one tourist before he was shot to death. David Berkowitz and Russell Eugene Weston, Jr. are examples of individuals who have suffered from mental disorders and who have engaged in violent actions.
A lesser serious form mental disorder but may also be capable of engaging in violent behavior are those who are the Antisocial Personality Disorder. It is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights of others and violations of them. A person who has APD is unwilling to conform to existing social norms and disrespects lawful behavior. The most obvious manifestation is that these individuals engage in chronic lying and use aliases. They also repeatedly engage in actions that may be a basis for their arrest and incarceration. Another manifestation of APD is the tendency to become irritable, aggressive and to participate in physical fights and assaults without regard for their own safety or the safety of others. Because of their indifference to their own safety and the safety of others, it is not surprising why individuals who have APD are also capable of committing violent crime.
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